Is Machine Automation the Future for British Manufacturing?

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Is Machine Automation the Future for British Manufacturing?

The British have always been special. For many years, I had visitor groups from the UK and Ireland who came to see us at our annual open house here at Hermle AG’s headquarters in Gosheim in the south west of Germany. After welcoming everyone and thanking them for making the effort to come, I always had to state: “Unfortunately the subject of automation seems to be a bit of black magic to the British manufacturers. We sell many machines to your island but hardly any automation is requested, whereas the Dutch hardly buy any of our machining centres without automation anymore.”

Fortunately, this has changed during the last few years. Britain has woken up and is increasingly embracing automation. The Brits are not quite there yet with the Dutch in that respect, but they are definitely catching up. This also made our partner Kingsbury, who sells and services our machining centres and automation in the UK, Ireland and the Gulf region, think about how to support this increasing demand in automation efficiently. Richard Kingsbury came up with the idea of installing a young and promising young man, who until then was a senior apps engineer, in the role of Business Development Manager Automation. Dan Castles seized the opportunity and has not looked back since. He received in-depth training from Hermle and was supplied with much material on our automation so he could become as self-sufficient as possible. He is now able to advise customers on the best approach to their needs, before going on to generate a quote for complex automation solutions without too much help from Hermle AG, and can therefore supply a thought-through, individual solution much quicker.

And while you might think you do not have the batch sizes and volume of parts to make use of automation, this is actually quite often not true. When the right, flexible and clever solutions for part handling are combined with a sufficient number of installed tools you can easily make sense of automation for even a batch size of one. If you imagine that you can increase the real availability of your machining centre over the whole year from about 50 to 85 percent by using automation, the payback and break-even can be much quicker than you think. You can keep the machine running overnight as well as into or over the whole weekend.

Of course, this is where software solutions also come onto the scene. They play an increasingly important role in helping you make the best use of your hardware. What is needed is software that gives you a complete overview of what tools, programmes and parts are available on your machining centre. The software needs to be able to look ahead and inform you in advance when there is a tool missing for a certain operation in a lined-up job. If working unmanned it should be intelligent enough to change the order of priorities and jobs lined up to make use of the resources that are there and not just stop when something is missing. The Hermle-own HACS (Hermle Automation Control System) solution does exactly that. Once you have a working solution to keep your machine producing parts manned or unmanned, it then makes sense to increase your remote visibility to look at the machine’s state, actual availability, and, if any, daily, weekly or monthly maintenance activities that may soon be required to keep production going. For this task, Hermle also has a software tool on offer - the Hermle Information Management System, or HIMS for short.

For very complex automation solutions requiring even more flexibility, the use of a six- or seven-axis (linear) robot solution does make sense. The robot cannot just handle parts, but also change grippers for very different part geometries, has the required fixtures to hold the parts on the swivelling rotary table, and can handle pallets or pick parts from a Kanban system. It can even handle oversized tools that might not fit into the pick-up tool changer.

The British are still special (maybe after BREXIT even more so) and we would love to continue supporting them in the future with clever and efficient manufacturing solutions to future-proof their businesses.



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